Making the desi scene in New York
Desis in the House
Indian American Youth Culture in New York City
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Sunaina Marr Maira
Honorable Mention for the Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize from the American Studies Association, 2003
She sports a nose-ring and duppata (a scarf worn by South Asian women) along with the latest fashion in slinky club wear; he's decked out in Tommy gear. Their moves on the crowded dance floor, blending Indian film dance with break-dancing, attract no particular attention. They are just two of the hundreds of hip young people who flock to the desi (i.e., South Asian) party scene that flourishes in the Big Apple.
New York City, long the destination for immigrants and migrants, today is home to the largest Indian American population in the United States. Coming of age in a city remarkable for its diversity and cultural innovation, Indian American and other South Asian youth draw on their ethnic traditions and the city's resources to create a vibrant subculture. Some of the city's hottest clubs host regular bhangra parties, weekly events where young South Asians congregate to dance to music that mixes rap beats with Hindi film music, bhangra (North Indian and Pakistani in origin), reggae, techno, and other popular styles. Many of these young people also are active in community and campus organizations that stage performances of "ethnic cultures."
In this book Sunaina Maira explores the world of second-generation Indian American youth to learn how they manage the contradictions of gender roles and sexuality, how they handle their "model minority" status and expectations for class mobility in a society that still racializes everyone in terms of black or white. Maira's deft analysis illuminates the ways in which these young people bridge ethnic authenticity and American "cool."
"Sunaina Maira guides us into the bog of nostalgia where beleaguered immigrants of color forge a memory that is at odds with their homeland, but also with the dreams of their home boys and home girls. An honest ethnography gives us ample evidence that nostalgia is a feint. Rather than leave us with this conclusion alone, Maira posits something called critical nostalgia, and you'll find out what that is when you read this important book."
"Finally, an entertaining study of a second generation immigrant youth group that exposes all that goes on behind U.S. black and white racial and national imagery. A brilliant behind the scenes look that shows how immigrant youth's struggles of what's cool, authentic and fun are really about the reconstitution of racial, class and gender identities."
"In Sunaina Maira's smart, hip ethnography of the Manhattan scene, Indian American youth perform and transgress remix anxieties and traditions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and nation. Her beat is cool, hot, irresistible."
"Maira offers a compelling comparative analysis of white mainstream appropriation and commodification of Indian cultural forms and practices and of the desi's cultural mixing of music, dance, and attire."
"In this thorough academic study, Maira explores the cultural dynamics found among Desis, second generation Sough Asian American youth....Through interviews with Indian Americans, Maira attempts to discover the deeper meaning that this remix music has for young South Asian Americans and the role it plays in helping them to define their ethnic identity and gender relationships. Well researched and perceptive."
"This lively book is hard to set down. It is a powerful study of second-generation Indian-American youth growing up in New York City in the mid-1990s."
"Desis in the House presents a nuanced, poignant look at the contradictions that second-generation youths of color have to confront and is particularly valuable for demonstrating the inadequacy of current categories and theoretical perspectives for analyzing their dilemmas."
Read a review from JAAS, Volume 5.3 (October 2002), written by Shilpa Dave (pdf).
In the series
Asian American History and Culture, edited by K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Vő, and Cathy Schlund-Vials.
Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture, series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi and David Palumbo-Liu, series editors K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Vő, and Cathy Schlund-Vials continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.